Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-4v6tc Total loading time: 0.519 Render date: 2023-01-31T23:28:44.646Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Use of Kairos in Renaissance Political Philosophy*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Joanne Paul*
New College of the Humanities


Although the Greek concept of kairos (καιρός) has undergone a recent renewal of interest among scholars of Renaissance rhetoric, this revival has not yet been paralleled by its reception into the history of political thought. This article examines the meanings and uses of this important concept within the ancient Greek tradition, particularly in the works of Isocrates and Plutarch, in order to understand how it is employed by two of the most important political thinkers of the sixteenth century: Thomas Elyot and Niccolò Machiavelli. Through such an investigation this paper argues that an appreciation of the concept of kairos and its use by Renaissance political writers provides a fuller understanding of the political philosophy of the period.

Research Article
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2014

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who contributed their helpful thoughts and advice to earlier drafts of this paper, especially Richard Bourke, David Colclough, Melissa Lane, and Quentin Skinner, as well as the two anonymous reviewers and the excellent and dedicated editors at Renaissance Quarterly. An earlier and much-abbreviated version was presented at the Newberry Centre for Renaissance Studies Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference, 27 January 2012, and I thank the organizers of that conference, as well as all those who contributed questions and comments at that time. Grateful thanks also go to Georgios Giannakopoulos, Simone Noja, and Evangelos Sakkas for their helpful comments on the Greek texts. All translations and originals are from given Loeb editions, except where noted. All italics within quotations are found in the originals.


Aalders, G. J. D. Plutarch’s Political Though. Trans. Manekofsky, A. M.. Amsterdam, 1982.Google Scholar
Aeschylus, . Aeschylu. Vol. 2, The Libation Bearers. Trans. Herbert Weir, Smyth. Cambridge, 1983.Google Scholar
Alciato, Andrea. Emblematum Liber. Augsburg, 1531. Alciato at Glasgow: Scholar
Altera Secretissima Instructio. Trans. Hobbes, Thomas. In Reason of State, Propaganda and the Thirty Years War, ed. Noel Malcolm, 125–99. Oxford, 2007.Google Scholar
Bacon, Francis. The Twoo Bookes of Francis Bacon. Of the Proficiency and Aduancement of Learning, Diuine and Human. London, 1605.Google Scholar
Bacon, Francis. The History of the Reign of Henry VII and Other Work. Ed. Vickers, Brian. Cambridge, 1998.Google Scholar
Baldini, A. Enzo. “Le De regia sapientia de Botero et De la naissance, durée et chute des Estats de Lucinge.Barbarisation et humanisation de la guerr. 2 (2004): 259–73.Google Scholar
Balzac, Jean-Louis Guez de. The Prince. Trans. H. G. London, 1648.Google Scholar
Baumlin, James S. “Ciceronian Decorum and the Temporalities of Renaissance Rhetoric.” In Rhetoric and Kairos (2002), 138–64.Google Scholar
Beehler, Sharon A.‘Confederate Season’: Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Understanding of Kairos .” In Shakespeare Matters: History, Teaching, Performance, ed. Davis, Lloyd, 7488. Newark, 2003.Google Scholar
Blois, Lukas de, and Bons, Jeroen. “Platonic and Isocratean Political Concepts in Plutarch’s Lycurgus .” In Teoria e Prassi Politica Nelle Opera di Plutarc. (1995), 99106.Google Scholar
Blundeville, Thomas. The True Order and Methode of Wryting and Reading Hystorie. London, 1574.Google Scholar
Boissard, Jean Jacques. Emblemes latins. Paris, 1588. French Emblems at Glasgow: Scholar
Bons, Jeroen A. E. “Plutarch as a Source for Early Greek Rhetoric: The Case of Gorgias.” In The Statesman in Plutarch’s Work. (2004), 189–200.Google Scholar
Botero, Giovanni. Observations Vpon the Liues of Alexander, Caesar, Scipi. London, 1602.Google Scholar
Botero, Giovanni. The Reason of Stat. Trans. P. J. Waley and D. P. Waley. London, 1956.Google Scholar
Carter, Michael. “ Stasis and Kairos: Principles of Social Construction in Classical Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Revie. 7.1 (1988): 97112.Google Scholar
Cicero, . On Dutie. Trans. Miller, Walter. Cambridge, MA, 2005.Google Scholar
Colclough, David. “‘Parrhesia’: The Rhetoric of Free Speech in Early Modern England.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetori. 17.2 (1999): 177–212.Google Scholar
Cooper, Craig. “The Moral Interplay between Plutarch’s Political Precepts and Life of Demosthenes .” In The Unity of Plutarch’s Wor. (2008), 6783.Google Scholar
Corrozet, Gilles. Hecatomgraphie. Paris, 1540. French Emblems at Glasgow: Scholar
Day, Angel. The English Secretori. London, 1586.Google Scholar
Desideri, Paolo. “Plutarco e Machiavelli.” In Teoria e Prassi Politica Nelle Opera di Plutarc. (1995), 107–22.Google Scholar
John, Dillon. “The Social Role of the Philosopher in the Second Century CE: Some Remarks.” In Sage and Emperor: Plutarch, Greek Intellectuals, and Roman Power in the Time of Trajan (98–117 A.D.), ed. Stadler, Philip A. and Luc, Van der Stockt, 2940. Leuven, 2002.Google Scholar
Dissoi Logoi. In Contrasting Arguments: An Edition of theDissoi Logoi, trans. T. M. Robinson, 98143. New York, 1979.Google Scholar
Dowriche, Anne. The French Histori. London, 1589.Google Scholar
Elyot, Thomas. Pasquil the Playn. London, 1533.Google Scholar
Elyot, Thomas. The Dictionar. London, 1538.Google Scholar
Enos, Richard Leo. Roman Rhetoric: Revolution and the Greek Influenc. West Lafayette, 2008.Google Scholar
Felippe, Bartolome. The Counseller. A Treatise of Counsels and Counsellers of Prince. Trans. Thorius, John. London, 1589.Google Scholar
Garver, Eugene. Machiavelli and the History of Prudenc. Madison, 1987.Google Scholar
Geiger, Joseph. “ Lives and Moralia: How Were Put Asunder What Plutarch Hath Joined Together.” In The Unity of Plutarch’s Wor. (2008), 512.Google Scholar
Gnoza, Jonathan Stanley. “Isocrates in Italy: The Reception of Isocrates among the Romans and the Renaissance Humanists.” PhD diss., Yale University, 2012.Google Scholar
Gorgias, . Ἐπιτάφιος. In Die Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker: Griechische und Deutsch, ed. Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz. 3 vols. Zürich, 1964.Google Scholar
Gorgias, . Epitaphio. In The Athenian Funeral Orations, trans. Herrman, Judson, 2326. Newburyport, 2004.Google Scholar
Grafton, Anthony. What Was History? The Art of History in Early Modern Europ. Cambridge, 2007.Google Scholar
Guy, John. “The Rhetoric of Counsel in Early Modern England.” In Tudor Political Culture, ed. Dale Hoak, 292–310. Cambridge, 1995.Google Scholar
Haskins, Ekaterina V. Logos and Power in Isocrates and Aristotl. Columbia, SC, 2004.Google Scholar
Hunt, Maurice A. Shakespeare’. As You Like It: Late Elizabethan Culture and Literary Representation. New York, 2008.Google Scholar
Ingenkamp, H. G. “How to Present a Statesman?” In The Statesman in Plutarch’s Work. (2004), 6886.Google Scholar
Isocrates, . Ad Nicocle. Trans. Elyot, Thomas. London, 1533.Google Scholar
Isocrates, . Ad Nicocle. Trans. Elyot, Thomas. London, 1550.Google Scholar
Isocrates, . Isocrates with an English Translatio. Trans. Norlin, George. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1928.Google Scholar
Jacobs, Susan Gail. “Plutarch’s Deterrent Lives: Lessons in Statesmanship.” PhD diss., Columbia University, 2011.Google Scholar
Jardine, Lisa, ed. The Education of a Christian Princ. Desiderius Erasmus. Cambridge, 1997.Google Scholar
Kahn, Victoria. Machiavellian Rhetoric: From the Counter-Reformation to Milto. Princeton, 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kinneavy, James L. Kairos: A Neglected Concept in Classical Rhetoric.” In Rhetoric and Praxis: The Contribution of Classical Rhetoric to Practical Reasoning, ed. Moss, Jean Dietz, 79105. Washington, DC, 1986.Google Scholar
Kinneavy, James L.Kairos in Classical and Modern Rhetorical Theory.” In Rhetoric and Kairos (2002), 5876.Google Scholar
Lane, Melissa. Method and Politics in Plato’. Statesman. Cambridge, 1998.Google Scholar
Leicester’s Commonwealth. Ed. D. C. Peck. Athens, OH, 1985.Google Scholar
Lucinge, René de. The Beginning, Continuance, and Decay of Estates. Trans. Finet, John. London, 1606.Google Scholar
Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discovrses. Trans. Dacre, Edward. London, 1636.Google Scholar
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Trans. Edward Dacre. London, 1640.Google Scholar
Macphail, Eric. The Sophistic Renaissance. Geneva, 2011.Google Scholar
Mirhady, David C. “Plutarch’s Use of Theophrastus’ Πρὸς τοὺς καιρούς.” In Teoria e Prassi Politica Nelle Opera di Plutarc. (1995), 269–73.Google Scholar
Montaigne, Michel de. The Essayes, or Morall, Politike, and Millitarie Discourses. Trans. Florio, John. London, 1603.Google Scholar
Onians, Richard Broxton. The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate. Cambridge, 1988.10.1017/CBO9780511552724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pade, Marianne. The Reception of Plutarch’s Lives in Fifteenth-Century Ital. Copenhagen, 2007.Google Scholar
Parker, Henry. The Case of Shipmon. London, 1640.Google Scholar
Parker, Henry. The Contra-replican. London, 1643.Google Scholar
Plato, . Plat. Vol. 9, Phaedrus. Trans. Fowler, Harold N.. Cambridge, MA, 1903.Google Scholar
Plutarch, . The Philosophie, Commonlie Called, The Moral. Trans. Holland, Philemon. London, 1603.Google Scholar
Plutarch, . The Moral. Trans. Goodwin, William W.. 5 vols. Boston, 1874.Google Scholar
Plutarch, . Morali. Ed. Bernadakis, Gregorius N.. 12 vols. Leipzig, 1888.Google Scholar
Plutarch, . Plutarch’s Live. Trans. Perrin, Bernadotte. 11 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1919.Google Scholar
Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesi. London, 1589.Google Scholar
Quintilian, . Institutio Oratoria. Trans. Butler, Harold Edgeworth. Cambridge, MA, 1921.Google Scholar
Race, William H. “The Word καιροσ in Greek Drama.Transactions of the American Philological Associatio. 111 (1981): 197–213.10.2307/284129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory and Praxis. Ed. Sipiora, Phillip and Baumlin, James S.. New York, 2002.Google Scholar
Rose, Jacqueline. “Kingship and Counsel in Early Modern England.” The Historical Journa. 54.1 (2011): 4771.Google Scholar
Rostagni, Augusto. “A New Chapter in the History of Rhetoric and Sophistry.” Trans. Phillip Sipiora. In Rhetoric and Kairos (2002), 2345.Google Scholar
Ruffy, Maria Vamvouri. “Symposium, Physical and Social Health in Plutarch’s Table Talk.” In The Philosopher’s Banquet: Plutarch’s Table Talk in the Intellectual Culture of the Roman Empire, ed. Frieda Klotz and Katerina Oikonomopoulou, 131–57. Oxford, 2011.Google Scholar
Secretissima Instructio. MS Sloane 3938, British Library, London.Google Scholar
Shipley, D. R. A Commentary on Plutarch’. Life of Agesiloas: Response to Sources in the Presentation of Character. Oxford, 1997.Google Scholar
Sipiora, Phillip. “Introduction: The Ancient Concept of Kairos.” In Rhetoric and Kairos (2002), 122.Google Scholar
Skinner, Quentin. Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbe. Cambridge, 1996.10.1017/CBO9780511598579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Skinner, Quentin, and Russell Price. “Appendix B: Notes on the Vocabulary of The Prince.” In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, 100–13. Cambridge, 2010.Google Scholar
Smith, John E. “Time and Qualitative Time.” In Rhetoric and Kairos (2002), 4657.Google Scholar
Smith, Thomas. “Orations for and against the Queen’s Marriage.” In The Life of the Learned Sir Thomas Smith, ed. Strype, John, 184–259. Oxford, 1820.Google Scholar
Sophocles, . The Tragedies of Sophocles. Trans. Jebb, Richard. Cambridge, 1957.Google Scholar
The Statesman in Plutarch’s Works: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the International Plutarch Society, Nijimen/Castle Hernen, May 1–6, 2002. Vol. 1, Plutarch’s Statesman and His Aftermath: Political, Philosophical, and Literary Aspects. Ed. Lukas de Blois, Jeroen Bons, Ton Kessels, and Dirk M. Schenkeveld. Leiden, 2004.Google Scholar
Teoria e Prassi Politica Nelle Opera di Plutarco. Ed. Italo Gallo and Barbara Scardigli. Napoli, 1995.Google Scholar
Thompson, Roger. “ Kairos Revisted: An Interview with James Kinneavy.” Rhetoric Revie. 19.1/2 (2000): 7388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thucydides, . History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Smith, C. Forrester. Oxford, 1935.Google Scholar
The Unity of Plutarch’s Work: “Moralia” Themes in the “Lives,” Features of the “Lives” in the “Moralia.” Ed. Anastasios G. Nikolaidis. Berlin, 2008.Google Scholar
Untersteiner, Mario. The Sophists. Oxford, 1954.Google Scholar
Usher, Stephen. “Kairos in Fourth-Century Greek Oratory.” In Oratory in Action, ed. Edwards, Michael and Reid, Christopher, 5356. Manchester, 2004.Google Scholar
Waller, G. F. The Strong Necessity of Time: The Philosophy of Time in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Literature. The Hague, 1976.Google Scholar
Walzer, Arthur. “Rhetoric of Counsel in Thomas Elyot’s Pasquil the Playne .” Rhetoric. 30.1 (2012): 121.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Use of Kairos in Renaissance Political Philosophy*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Use of Kairos in Renaissance Political Philosophy*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Use of Kairos in Renaissance Political Philosophy*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *